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Orange County

They Earned Their Diplomas; She Didn't Deserve Her Fate

Honors: A Cal State Fullerton grad will also accept a degree for a sister who died in March. 2002 class is the university's largest.

June 02, 2002|DAVID HALDANE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Chris Holloway walks down the aisle for commencement exercises at Cal State Fullerton today, he'll be walking for two.

Holloway, 22, who has earned a bachelor's degree in psychology, also will pick up a diploma for his sister, Kim Holloway, who died three months ago at age 27.

"It's bittersweet," Holloway said about the graduation ceremony.

University officials decided to award Kim Holloway a degree posthumously after learning of the sudden death of the English major and aspiring writer, who was on track to graduate magna cum laude.

"Graduation," Holloway said, "is something she really looked forward to and wanted so badly to do.... I'm very happy that she's going to be honored for her work, but I'd rather have her here."

The brother and sister--he in body, she in spirit--are among the 7,900 members of the Class of 2002, the largest graduating class in Cal State Fullerton's history.

The size of the graduating class led university officials to spread the ceremony out over the weekend, with half graduating Saturday and the rest today.

And of course, two ceremonies means two commencement speakers.

On Saturday, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) spoke. Today's graduates will hear from Rep. Edward R. Royce (R-Fullerton).

"You have made it," Sanchez told cheering graduates. "This is what you've been working for. I look at you and remember my first day in Congress--there is nothing better than having passion and commitment in what you do."

For Kim Holloway, the passion burned bright.

Born and reared in nearby La Puente, Holloway was an honor student at William Workman High School, where she also played soccer, ran track, loved literature and was involved in broadcast journalism.

After attending Mount San Antonio College in Walnut for two years, she dropped out to work full time at Disneyland.

Then in 2000, she decided to resume her education and enrolled at Cal State Fullerton, majoring in English.

"She loved writing poetry," recalled her father, Daniel Holloway, 54.

"It's always difficult to work full time and go to school, but she liked it and was looking forward to graduating and achieving one of her life's goals."

One morning early in March, she awoke with a pain in her side, her father said. She went to a doctor, who sent her home suggesting that she take Tylenol.

Thirty-six hours later she was dead, the father said, the apparent victim of a blood infection caused by a kidney stone.

"We were devastated," the father recalled. "It was all like a movie--I wasn't even really there."

Today's ceremony is important, he says, because "it sort of validates where she wanted to go in her life."

Others saw Saturday's commencement as a launching point.

Janea Butler, 24, hopes to use her new degree in child and adolescent studies to teach elementary school or open her own child care center. "It's been a long time coming," Butler said.

In some ways, her degree is a continuation of a family's drive to improve its life. Butler's mother, Carrie, 52, four years ago became the first of 10 siblings--the children of high school dropouts in Mississippi--to earn a college degree.

"She was my inspiration," Butler said. "There were lots of mountains and valleys, but now I can see the sunlight."

Shakiba Fimbres, 23, a child and adolescent studies major, is the first member of her family to graduate from college.

She said she was looking forward to some serious post-commencement celebrating.

"I'm excited," she said. "We're partying up tonight."

Said theater arts major Sarah Perea, 27: "I feel ecstatic. "I'm very proud."

Perea has set her goals.

"I want to act," she said. "I'm moving to Hollywood."

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